What does the “L” in L. Ron Hubbard stand for? It’s not the greatest mystery about the founder of the Church of Scientology and author of the best-selling metaphysical treatise Dianetics. But in a children’s storybook way, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant repetitively asks if it means “leader,” “live” or something else. The intentional naivete is coy, and that’s a big part of the show’s appeal to adults who are not parents of cast members.
The NOLA Project scheduled the play as its holiday show, and the entire cast is between ages 9 and 12. They breathlessly recount the life story of Hubbard and the tenets of Scientology, and most of the tale is straightforward — taken from Scientology literature and Hubbard’s writing. There is unmistakable irreverence in the introduction by a narrator (Catherine Elvir) dressed as an angel and a manger scene with young L. Ron (Aaron Richert) surrounded by barnyard animals, but the humor comes from the concept of New Age wisdom packaged in a singsong holiday pageant format, particularly one in which children explain how to be reconcile the “reactive” and analytical parts of the mind and become spiritually “clear.”
The show is meant to be joyous, and directors A.J. Allegra and Natalie Boyd have the cast gleefully dancing, shimmying and singing musical numbers about spiritual enlightenment. There also are dance breaks and some corny bits that make the show light and fun. Outfitted in preppy attire, Richert was poised as Hubbard, espousing a philosophy of the science of the mind and rescuing lost souls. Tucker Godbold was funny as a loudmouthed New Yorker and the nasal-voiced Xenu, the ancient galactic leader who brought people to Earth and clustered them around volcanoes in Scientology’s founding mythology. Claire Bourgeois was entertaining as the hysterical and panicked Donald, and the IRS lawyer who brings Hubbard to trial for tax evasion. Most cast members played a number of roles and they all kept the ensemble numbers upbeat and entertaining.
The end of Alex Timbers’ play is unnecessarily ominous — and amusing even though it’s predictable. But the show is meant to be taken at face value, and it’s hilarious.
A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant
7 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday; 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21
Mid-City Theatre, 3540 Toulouse St., (504) 488-1460